Abandonment is a Perception

Perception matters. As we go through our own “adult” stuff and often have to make hard choices, we are not always aware of how our children are perceiving what we had to do. My marriage at 19 ended in divorce after the birth of our daughter a few years later. Eventually, I then left my daughter with her paternal grandmother (about the age of 3), but she eventually ended up with her dad and a step-mother. I made attempts to stay in contact and reassure her always that it never was about her directly but my own problems. Fortunately, we are close today as adults raising children (my grandchildren and two sons I have now from a subsequent marriage who’s ages are close to that of my grandchildren). I have faced that as a child her perception was understandably about having been abandoned, even though it was never my intention to never to have her under my own roof again during her childhood.

Today, I read about a woman with somewhat similar concerns. She left her child’s father when her daughter was only a year and a half old. She gave her mother legal guardianship of her daughter as she was going through a really rough time in her life. It’s shameful and it’s tough to face these kinds of reality. Finally, this woman met someone with whom she has been able to create a whole and loving family with her daughter and a subsequent baby brother from her new relationship. This daughter is now 9 years old and there are understandably “issues”.

Her daughter has ADHD and a fiery personality. Also some mood and behavioral problems exasperated by her abandonment trauma. She tends to be self-centered (normal) and melodramatic (from me). She can be very mean and unforgiving at times. She easily gets stuck on feelings of being left out or forgotten, even while we’re actively spending time with her.

One response suggested – Behavior is communication. Give each other grace. You are not the choices you made.

Another offered a perspective which I find valid – She has emotions that she is shoving down because she does not know how to deal with them. A huge part of healing childhood trauma is to grieve the losses that caused the trauma. For her, it was not having you or her father in her life for those years. My suggestion is that you start working on grieving your losses, and be open and honest with her about it (age appropriately). Let her see that you are in denial, angry, bargaining, sad, and finally accepting of what happened. That will give her permission to explore those feelings that she has inside of herself. I would also suggest a trauma/grief informed counselor. 

You were part of your daughter’s wounding, you can play a major part in her healing too. It all starts with the parent healing as an adult. Learning what triggers us, so we can be the calm, consistent adults that our kids need because our calm becomes their calm, our ability to regulate our emotions becomes their ability.

More than one recommended LINK> Trust Based Relational Intervention – which I have seen and mentioned before. TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.

Someone else suggested mediation. Sometimes a safe person who’s not her parent can help her better understand/hear what you may be trying to communicate (and vice versa). And her suggestion came from personal experience – “I’ve had mediations done with both my and my mother’s therapist, and each time seemed to help shed some light on new aspects of a topic being discussed with our respective therapists.”

And an acknowledgement that I also understand personally – The mere fact that you care so deeply, is absolutely everything. DO NOT ever give up on that. Parenting is so hard, even without the added guilt you carry. All you can do is wake up and do the best you can do for that day.

Finally this from someone who’s been there (and hits me in the guilt place for I have done this too) – I wish my mom had owned her hand in my trauma WITHOUT excuses or trying to push blame onto others. I wish she would have validated my experiences. I wish she would have created and protected a safe space for me to understand and unpack all of the feelings and thoughts I had, preferably with a therapist. I wish she would have spent time one on one with me doing things I cared about, getting to know me deeper. I wish she wouldn’t have told me how hard XYZ was for her, I didn’t care, it wasn’t a competition, I was the helpless child. Even if my mom’s choices were between bad and worse, she was an adult who had brought me with her to that point. I wanted a mom who wanted to BE my mom.

She added – Your bit you wrote about your daughter feeling left out or forgotten hit me like a ton of bricks. That feeling is something I am working on to this day. I felt so out of place with my mom, stepdad, and new baby brother. I knew I was forgettable and honestly with a new baby – replaceable. They felt like a whole little family and I was just the chump she had to come back and get so I could tag along. (blogger’s note – though I never was able to bring my daughter back into my own life fulltime – we did have visits – I did go on to have 2 sons who I have been raising. This caused me to consider how that might feel to her – even though she is an adult with children of her own.)

One more – Focus on being your best self today and in the future. That’s how you can make it up to them, they’re often incredibly wise about this stuff. This way of thinking encourages you to reach a point of acceptance and decide… everyone’s alive, healthy, and you can’t change the past. I think that’s what I would say to my own parents, just sin no more and I don’t want to dwell in the past. (Though there may be times when the wounds bubble back up.)

My own last insight – life is messy, complicated and sometimes very very difficult. We can only acknowledge where we have failed but instead of continually beating ourselves up over that – move forward with being the best person we have managed to be at this time.

It Is About More Than That

In my all things adoption group, a woman writes –

Let’s talk about “playing the victim”. I see this come up a lot in this group when adoptees and former fostercare youth are talking about their trauma. I can only speak for myself, but I’d like to explain why this is so bothersome.

This is a group about the realities of adoption. Our conversations are often about adoption. I talk about my adoption trauma a lot in this group. Why? Because it’s relevant to the conversation. The conversations I have in this group are not reflective of the conversations I have elsewhere in my life. This group is only a sliver of my life.

I have trauma from being adopted. I suffer from mental illness. I’ve been diagnosed with BPD (* see below). I don’t blame all of my struggles on being adopted. I can’t say for certain that it is the root of all my problems. But I also can’t separate it. I was relinquished as a newborn. This trauma has always been here. It is a part of the other problems. It is a part of me. But it’s not all of me.

* Note – BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.

I have trauma from being adopted but I have privilege in other areas of my life. I’m very fortunate to be where I am today. I’ve met many roadblocks as a result of being an adoptee, but I’ve overcome many of them. I’ve made mistakes and suffered the consequences of those mistakes, but I own them. I don’t blame others for my actions.

Being adopted comes with trauma. Being adopted has legal implications that can make things difficult. In a group about facing the realities of adoption, I don’t think it’s “playing the victim” to acknowledge the hard things. You have no idea how anyone has lived their life. We are simply sharing experiences that are relevant to the purpose of this group.